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Andrew Bacevich discusses the Iraq war -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Whether the Democrat Barack Obama or the Republican John McCain end up in
the White House, or through some miracle, Hillary Clinton does, the defining issue for the next
administration's foreign policy will be the war in Iraq.

McCain wants to fight on indefinitely, while Clinton and Obama favour differing versions of a
staged withdrawal.

One American observer with more than a keen interest in the war is conservative Andrew Bacevich, a
Professor of International Relations at Boston University.

He's a Vietnam War veteran who spent more than twenty years in the US army before joining academia
in the early '90s.

He was a vocal early critic of the Iraq War, and tragically, his own son is one of the four
thousand American soldiers who've now died there. Professor Bacevich's son, also named Andrew, was
killed in a suicide bombing north of Baghdad one year ago.

The Professor's in Australia for the Sydney Writers' Festival to discuss his book "The New American
Militarism" and he joined me earlier.

Professor, you're a conservative, you had a long military career. With that pedigree, one might
have thought you would be a supporter of the war in Iraq, but you were a sceptic pretty much from
the beginning. Why was that?

ANDREW BACEVICH, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Well, I'm a conservative
but conservatism can be defined in a variety of ways. I think most people in the world probably
think of the Bush administration as a conservative administration. In my judgement, it's not. In my
judgement, conservative values would lead one to be sceptical of engaging in preventive war and
engaging in preventive war with the expectation that you can impose political change on a society
that's so radically different from American society as is the case in Iraq. So, I was sceptical
from the outset and think that a genuinely conservative American administration would be far more
prudent in using American military power.

LEIGH SALES: So you become over the years of the war, a vocal critic of that. What did you hope to
achieve by putting your opposition out publicly?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I'm not sure I expected to achieve anything because you're kidding yourself
if you think that, you know, writing some op-eds or articles or even books is going to have any
significant impact on policy. But I think, I think - two purposes: one is citizens have an - to the
extent that a citizen has a voice and has an opportunity to speak, then we ought to speak what we
believe to be is the truth and what effect that has remains to be seen. But the second thing is, I
had become concerned even before the Iraq War that Americans generally had come to have a very
distorted sense of what military power can do. And of the role that military power should play as a
part of US foreign policy. And President Bush's decision to invade Iraq - this whole notion that we
could use our military power to transform Iraq struck me as further evidence of this distorted kind
of thinking. And so, when I was writing critically of the Iraq War, what I really hoped to do in a
very small way, was to try to alert Americans to the fact that, really, we had been going down the
wrong path in our thinking about military power for the previous decade or more. And so it was in a
modest sense, and again, I wouldn't want to overstate it - it was an educational effort.

LEIGH SALES: I want to explore that aspect of the use of military in a little more detail later
but, for the moment if I can stick with your personal story. Your son had followed in your
footsteps and joined the military and was in fact deployed to Iraq. How did you feel about him
serving in war that you were opposed to and how did he feel about it?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, and the punchline here is my son was killed a year ago and I really
don't want to discuss that because it's a private matter. But, but, when my son was serving, I was
immensely proud of his decision to serve and I was immensely proud of everything that he did.
Nothing that has happened has changed my views on that. But as a scholar, as writer, I didn't view
it as my responsibility to change my views of this episode simply because my son was serving. I
actually felt it was my responsibility to my son to speak the truth as I was given to understand
the truth. And I'm not trying to make any claim that I have a lock on the truth, but I thought it
was my obligation to call it the way I saw it, as we say in the United States.

LEIGH SALES: You wrote not long after your son died that you really did some soul searching about
your role and that in fact some people had written to you and said that you were personally
culpable because you had spoken about the Iraq War.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, again, I really don't want to go down this path, but at that time I got
hundreds of emails and 98 per cent of them were emails that were expressing condolences. There were
a handful of emails that were quite hateful and that, in essence, were arguing that well, you know,
you got what you deserve because you should not have been speaking out against the war in the first
place. And, I did make reference to that in something that I wrote at the time. But I'd want to
emphasise - I mean, to me, it is the 98 per cent of the people who said the right thing who are
much more important than the couple of - the jerks who said the hateful things.

LEIGH SALES: On the issue of speaking out and the public views about the war in Iraq: in a recent
interview, the US Vice-President Dick Cheney had it put to him that two-thirds of Americans believe
the war in Iraq is not worth the cost and his response was, "So?" And he was then pressed, "You
don't care what the American people think?" And he said, "Well, one can't be blown off course by
opinion polls." What do you make of that?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, Cheney is an arrogant man who refuses to acknowledge the
catastrophic consequences of the decision to go to war with Iraq. And I'm glad I'm not Dick Cheney.
I'm glad I don't have to go to bed at night and reflect on the terrible consequences of this war -
terrible consequences for my country, terrible consequences, I think, for the Iraqi people. So, to
me, one dismisses that kind of language and yet there is a troubling aspect to what he said and the
troubling aspect is that I think it does suggest a contempt for democracy and it does suggest the
way that, especially since the beginning of the global war on terror, but in a sense more broadly,
probably ever since the end of World War II in the United States we have tolerated the emergence of
what we might call a national security elite. A relatively small group of people who are persuaded
that they understand the way the world works, but average Americans aren't smart enough to
understand the way the world works. They think they understand exactly what needs to be done to
maintain our well-being and are persuaded that the average citizen just is not shrewd enough to
figure all this out. What we see with the Iraq War is the people who are supposedly smart aren't
all that smart. And yet, we find ourselves in a situation where our democracy has been so weakened
that the people really don't have much of an opportunity to express themselves in politically
meaningful ways. And, I mean, the classic illustration I think is the US congressional elections
that happened in November of 2006, and I'm not sure how much your viewers know this, but I mean, it
was a - that election had a stunning effect in terms of returning the Democrats to power in both
the House of Representatives and the Senate and the Democrats had focused their campaign that fall
on the notion that elect us and well get - we'll end this war.

LEIGH SALES: Which, as we know, still has not happened.

ANDREW BACEVICH: We elected them, we the people elected them and what we found is, no, the war
doesn't end. What we found is that the Democratic Party is callow and dishonest and again this
becomes a - it poses the question: how - what is the meaning of a democratic system if when the
people speak their voices don't translate into any politically meaningful effects? And when
somebody like the Vice-President, as you quoted, can get away with basically saying, "The people -
what do we care? What do they know?"

LEIGH SALES: You spoke earlier about the United States' reliance on military power over diplomatic
means. Why has this tendency developed?

ANDREW BACEVICH: In the aftermath of the Vietnam War there were certain groups in American society
who saw the reconstitution of American military power as essential, not only to reverse the effects
of Vietnam, but also as a way to begin to reverse the effects of the 1960s. It was a way to restore
American power, restore American confidence and even restore traditional American values.

That effort achieved significant success. So much so that by the time we get to Operation Desert
Storm in 1991, the American people suddenly became aware of the fact that we did possess a mighty
army - the mightiest in the world. Unfortunately, as the Americans discovered that they were now in
possession of all this military power, I think in essence they became infatuated with military
power. They began to see military power - the army - as the most expeditious, most effective way to
fix a problem. And this manifested itself during the 1990s - the Clinton era - in an increasingly
promiscuous attitude with regard to military power. That is to say, a greater and greater
willingness to intervene here and there and everywhere else.

LEIGH SALES: There's the prospect that John McCain might end up in the White House, the least
conservative of the conservatives in that field. What hope is there if he becomes President that we
would end not only the war in Iraq but this reliance on military power?

ANDREW BACEVICH: McCain?

LEIGH SALES: McCain.

ANDREW BACEVICH: I think McCain has been actually quite clear that he intends to see the Iraq War
through to the end. He's quite committed to winning in Iraq and my expectation is that a McCain
victory will see the continuation of the Iraq War for years to come because it's not going to end
any time soon. The prospect of an Obama Presidency, I think, is the one where there is some hope
both of extricating the United States from Iraq, but then more importantly, of rethinking the
emphasis placed on military power.

LEIGH SALES: So you're a conservative but you're an Obama man?

ANDREW BACEVICH: I've said that in print. And the argument is not from my point of view
conservatives should vote for Obama because he's a conservative - he's not. He's a liberal
democrat. But my argument is that of the three candidates still standing (if Hillary Clinton is
still standing), Obama is the most likely to end the war. Only if we end the war in Iraq can we
then move on to the larger question of, given our failure there, what ought to be the basic
principals informing our policy and how should military power fit into that policy framework?

LEIGH SALES: Andrew Bacevich, thank you very much for joining Lateline.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Oh, thank you for having me.